Monday, April 19, 2010

No Sainthood Here

Connor turned four at the beginning of April.  Half the time I can't believe it's already been four years, because it feels like just yesterday I could cradle him in the crook of my arm.  The other half of the time I can't believe it's only been four years.  Seems like the little guy has been part of our family forever.

We've spent that four years figuring out a lot of things about parenting in general and parenting a child with special needs specifically.  Now we're about to embark on a whole new journey, and we'll have new territory to explore.  There's a four year old girl waiting for a family over in Thailand, and we're hoping that family is going to be us.

We're adopting.

It's interesting, the reaction I get when I tell people we're adopting another child with special needs (our future daughter is deaf).  People seem to fall into one of two categories; they think I'm a saint, or they think I'm nuts.  Personally I'd say I fall way, way closer to the latter than to the former, but I'd be more likely to cite my tendency to talk to myself in the car and my obsession with old time radio shows than our adoption plans as an indication of my insanity. 

I certainly don't understand why people associate adoption with sainthood.  I mean, it's not like Jeremy and I are doing it to make the world a better place or something.  We get a KID out of the deal.  This is not an altruistic thing.  It's a similar reaction to what we get when we tell people that our son has special needs, and I don't like it hearing about him any more than I like hearing it about our daughter-to-be.

I think one of the reasons why that reaction grates on my nerves so much is because it implies that kids with special needs are a burden; that they're somehow second best when compared to kids without special needs.  I really, really don't like it when they imply those things right in front of my son.  Not only do I not see Connor as a burden at all, but I think it's a privilege to be able to parent him, just the way I would think it's a privilege to be a parent, period.  Not everybody is cut out for the job, but sainthood is certainly not required. 

We won't be bringing our daughter home for a long while yet, so I have time to think about my responses to these kinds of questions and the inevitable reactions we'll get from parenting a deaf child who is obviously not related to us.  We're pretty used to the staring in the grocery store already, so that's not a problem.  But I want to make sure that I have my ducks in a row by the time she gets here so that if someone implies she's not quite as good as typical (or biological) children or that she's lucky to have us, I'll be able to answer them in a way that lets her know it's the other way around.

We'll be lucky to have her.



Jess blogs over at



  1. Protest all you want, but I'm going with sainthood. And not because you're a special needs parent and not because you're adopting a child or even because you're choosing to adopt a child with different needs.
    No, I'm going with sainthood simply because of the WAY in which you do it all. I will never forget the way you handled Jer's injury. For all the fear that HAD to be there, your reaction was so damned positive from moment one. Your posture was a matter-of-fact, no-bs, we-can-do-this attitude from the beginning. You hit the ground running with love and acceptance and you never wavered.
    So while I agree that being Connor's mom or your little girl's angel-mom doesn't put you up for sainthood, your kinda stuck with the handle anyway.

  2. Thanks Jess, but seriously I'm no saint! My house is way too messy for that.
    I think my positive reaction was mostly due to the sheer amount of chocolate I consumed. Basically I've been on a seven month sugar high.

  3. I have written about this as well in a few posts...well the part about children with special needs being a burden. It definitely angers me!!

  4. How wonderful that you are adopting another child, and I appreciate you bringing this subject up because I think it deserves a good discussion.
    I'm not sure that when people talk about the "burdens" of having a child with special needs that they mean the child him or herself, or the essence, is a burden. As the parent of a fifteen year old child with a severe seizure disorder that is not controlled by medication, who can't talk, use the toilet or, literally, take care of anything for herself, I can honestly say that the day to day care is a burden inasmuch as it goes on daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, literally forever. In the fifteen years that I have been watching her seize every single day, I have never gotten used to it, nor do I look on it as a "gift" in disguise. However, acknowledging those burdens doesn't affect my love for my daughter or her integrity as a human being, and I have found that sharing my feelings eases that burden -- my own and others who have children with special needs. I, too, flinch at being called a saint because we parents who have children with extra needs know that there is little choice but to "do it;" we also know that it's motivated primarily by love and not duty, the same love that guides me in the care and raising of my two typical boys. Unlike Khadra, I don't feel anger when someone acknowledges my feelings and the difficulties I face daily, and when people do I tend to think that they are struggling to understand those burdens and also how they might respond if the same were true for them.
    Above all, each parent brings a different personality to the experience of caring for a child with a disability, and I think we tend to cleave to those who share our own outlooks. Despite those differences, though, we parents of children with special needs have bonds to one another that transcend the differences.

  5. Hi Jess -- I think your kids are lucky to have you and vice versa. I get what you're saying about people implying that somehow your adopted daughter is getting more out of joining your family than vice versa. We adopted two children from Haiti five years ago and people didn't seem to get that it was just as rewarding for us as for our kids. That we "wanted" these children in the same way we wanted our bio kids.
    Sometimes when people say your child is lucky to have you, they're just trying to express what a great job you're doing.
    I think Elizabeth said it beautifully that we can acknowledge the burden associated with caring for children with special needs (and that varies depending on the nature of their needs) because it in no way touches our ability to love our children. I think people shy away from the word burden because they assume it means you love your child less or that it would somehow compromise your ability to love your child. I think it's obvious that most parents love their special-needs kids fiercely.
    The notion of children with disabilities somehow being second best is obviously a problem. I spoke to a woman recently who was adopted as a child in Britain during the 60s and at the time there were first-class babies -- white and normal -- and second class babies -- those of other races or with disabilities. Parents could adopt a limited number of first class babies and an unlimited amount of second class ones.
    Can you imagine?
    I think it's soooo cool. that you're adopting from Thailand. There are amazing resources for sign language now. Signing Times is supposed to be really good. And there are all kinds of online sign dictionaries where there are video clips of how to do the signs. And tons of great books.
    I'd love to hear more when your daughter comes home!

  6. That. Is. Amazing. I think the reason why people think sainthood is that they are projecting their own feelings—they can't imagine adopting a child with special needs. And so anyone who does has saint status.
    I just think it's wonderful that you're going to have another child.